By Nelson Coffin
When you’re hot, you’re hot, and Mount de Sales sophomore Kristen Zaranski was absolutely on fire in a 51-34 B Conference semifinal win over the Institute of Notre Dame on Wednesday in the second-seeded Penguins’ Marion I. Knott gymnasium on Wednesday evening in East Baltimore.
Zaranski scored 19 of a game-high 21 points in the second half to help usher third-seeded Mount de Sales (20-5, 11-2 conference) into Sunday’s championship game at 4 p.m. at Stevenson University against St. John’s Catholic Prep, the top seed.
“She’s a scoring machine,” Mount de Sales coach Trish Armstrong said. “She’s done that time and time again for us. She gets in certain positions and finds her way too the basket. She has a nose for the ball, and she’ll leak out in transition. She’s been our secret weapon all along. But no, honestly, we have six people that start that we interchange, and any one of the six can get hot.”
Both teams were tight in a first half in which a combined 26 points were scored.
“The biggest thing was how slow we started,” said IND junior standout Ja’Lyn Armstrong, who tied Madison DuBose for team scoring honors with 11 points. “We didn’t come out with our usual aggressive style, and as upperclassmen we failed to take charge the way we should have.”
After Mount de Sales built a 10-4 advantage late in the first quarter, the Penguins went on a 13-2 run that gave them a 17-12 lead early in the third quarter.
A tough turnaround jumper from the foul line by Ja’Lyn Armstrong at the halftime buzzer and a 3-pointer by DuBose keyed the run.
Not to be outdone, Sailor sophomore Abby Kuhn nailed a 3-pointer and swished the ensuing foul shot for a four-point play that cut the deficit to 17-16 before Zaranski followed suit with a baseline 3-pointer for a 19-17 lead.
IND (15-6, 11-2) fought back, retaking the lead on separate occasions on inside moves by Dubose sandwiched around a desperation buzzer-beater by Mount de Sales senior point guard Bridget Williams that skimmed off the glass and through the cylinder from a severe angle.
The 26-25 lead DuBose gave her team in the opening minute of the final period would be short-lived with the way Zaranski was shooting.
After Williams’ two free throws put the Sailors back on top for good at 27-26, Zaranski made two foul shots and back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Sailors’ margin to 35-26 midway through the fourth quarter.
“We had a spark in the second half, and we started to hit shot after shot,” Zaranski said. “There was so much energy on the court, and we were just super excited.”
The lead grew on Kuhn’s stick-back and two free throws and a layup by Williams to complete a pivotal 16-0 run that knocked the Penguins (15-6, 11-2) out of the playoffs after a highly successful season under coach Robert DuBose.
Trish Armstrong said that she is looking forward to meeting St. John’s again, despite suffering a 72-44 loss to the Vikings late last month.
“We might have gotten blown out at home, but we were coming off exam week,” she said. “(That loss) doesn’t mean anything to us. We respect them greatly, and they’re a great team. But we’re not afraid to play them.”